Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground and
Velvet Underground and Nico
many visionary artists, musicians or otherwise, the Velvet
Underground were never fully appreciated while they were alive
and well. But thanks in part to the solo successes of band
members Lou Reed and John Cale, and in part to the numerous
artists who cited them as influences (including REM, who covered
three of their songs on the "Dead Letter Office" LP), the
impact they have had on rock music is still being felt more
than 30 years later. The five CD "Peel Slowly and See" box
set contains all four Velvets LPs and more outtakes and B-sides
than most of us would know what to do with, and it is perhaps
more vital to own than any multi-disc retrospective of a rock
artist other than the Beatles. But if budget permits only
one Velvet Underground album for the time being, make it the
one with the banana.
to start? "Sunday Morning," the record's opener, may very
well be the only rock song ever with a celeste, a xylophone-like
instrument that Cale found sitting around in the studio. "Heroin"
is the most familiar track here, a haunting tale of drug addiction
set to Lou Reed's quivering voice and two simple chords, repeated
over and over. But it's far from repetitive; alternating between
slow and fast, loud and quiet, it keeps the listener hanging
on Reed's every word. The most accessible tracks other than
"Heroin" are the poppier ones, such as "Waiting for the Man"
and "Femme Fatale." The former is a blues-like alienation
dirge sung by Reed, while Nico, the German singer who was
only with the Velvets for this one album, takes the vocals
on the latter and sings an amusing story of a woman is "just
a little tease / see the way she walks / hear the way she
talks." Nico also sings on the ingenious "All Tomorrow's Parties,"
a playful jab at the hipper-than-thou New York artsy social
scene, of which Andy Warhol tried to make the Velvets a part.
ambitious songs take a while to get used to, but are ultimately
even more satisfying. "Venus in Furs" and "The Black Angel's
Death Song" are the album's centerpieces, and are like no
music ever recorded, before or since. The slow pulsing of
the tambourine, Maureen Tucker's delicate drumming, Lou Reed's
somber vocals, Sterling Morrison's insistent bass, and most
distinct of all, Cale's electric violin. "European Son," described
by Reed years later as "musical masturbation," is a seven
minute wall of noise, not an unusual piece by today's standards,
but this was 1967 after all, the same year that "Windy" and
"Kind of a Drag" hit number one. For a rock band to write
about anything remotely disturbing other than a broken heart,
or to attempt any sort of song structure not reliant on simple
verses and choruses, was unheard of. It would be a gross understatement
to say that the Velvet Underground were ahead of their time.
it was probably unintentional, there has never been a rock
album so brilliantly sequenced. Rather than beginning with
a bang, the album starts off slow and builds to a climax -
"Venus in Furs" arrives just in time, and the album's most
intense moments are evenly spaced among the comparatively
lightweight. "Heroin" is followed by "There She Goes Again,"
perhaps the album's most 'normal' song, but then comes Nico's
"I'll Be Your Mirror," a cute but extremely eccentric acoustic
love song. "The Black Angel's Death Song" tears that immediately
to pieces, and then "European Son" comes along and pandemonium
explore all the nuances of "The Velvet Underground and Nico"
would take longer than the eight hours it took to record the
album in the first place, an album that was probably never
intended for this kind of analysis. Perhaps then, the true
essence of what this album means is that of a blueprint for
dozens, possibly hundreds of budding musicians, to embrace
the do-it-yourself aesthetic in their songs. The Velvets often
drew crowds of less than 100 to their shows, but among the
teenagers in their audiences were future Pretender Chrissie
Hynde and future Car Ric Ocasek, and many others who went
forth and started their own bands. We still hear the influence
of the Velvet Underground today in the informal garage band
clutter of independent label artists as a contrast to highly
polished studio musicians. You could make a good case for
the Velvet Underground as the pioneers of "alternative rock,"
and thus for The Velvet Underground and Nico as the
first alternative album. But labels aside, there is nothing
quite like it.
Velvet Underground and Nico
5.0 out of